For the first two phases of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Chris Hemsworth’s portrayal of Thor largely boiled down to a basic fish-out-of-water premise whenever the God of Thunder would arrive on Earth – and it worked for the most part! Everyone enjoyed the character, and it’s in large part due to Hemsworth’s sincerity and charm in the role; it’s hard to imagine anyone else ever taking over the reigns from him and being half as endearing. However, a shift with the character occurred in 2017 when Thor: Ragnarok came out and it felt reminiscent of Captain America: The Winter Soldier in terms of films that properly redefined the character and felt like a quintessential step-forward for them in both style and tone. Director Taika Waititi definitely added a lot of much-needed humor that was less laughing at Thor’s larger-than-life persona and oblivious nature to our world and customs, but laughing with him and making him more of a relatable character. However, he did a great thing where he didn’t make him too relatable either; after all he’s still the God of Thunder and something of ‘himbo’ at heart.
With all of that being said, between Ragnarok and Thor’s scene-stealing performance in both Infinity War and Endgame, I was ecstatic to see what Waititi would bring to Thor: Love and Thunder and where he’d take Thor as a character next; especially with how wonderfully open his path seemed to be after Endgame, where he stepped down as the ruler of Asgard and away from Earth as an Avenger and into space with the Guardians of the Galaxy to find himself. And that’s precisely where this film picks up! Thor is mostly bumming rides with the Guardians and in the midst of his soul-searching, he occasionally assists them in battle. After news of a mysterious man named Gorr the God Butcher (Christian Bale) begins targeting gods across the galaxy, Thor splits from the Guardians and tries to follow Gorr’s trail; sending him back to Earth where he is reunited with Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson) but also his ex-girlfriend Jane Foster (Natalie Portman) who can now wield Mjolnir and summon the power of Thor.
Ragnarok is what I would consider to be a top-tier Marvel film, as it both feels the most loose and playful in terms of its craft and presentation but also managers to blend Taika’s signature humor and tone with a truly pivotal story for Thor that defines him to his core. Half of Love and Thunder feels like a natural progression of Ragnarok‘s most defining elements; the colors, the humor, the heart – it’s all there, and it’s as fun and playful as ever! However, what feels a bit lacking this time around is the story itself; I don’t need my MCU films to tie into the larger picture of the on-going narrative, as Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is probably my favorite film of the saga. But I always like to feel that the characters go through something important in each individual story and that they come out a bit different by the end – Love and Thunder isn’t completely void of character development, but it largely feels like it’s going through a cycle of developments and beats we’ve been through before. Portman shines and is clearly having a lot of fun here as The Mighty Thor; but it almost feels like a missed opportunity to really do something different with not only her character but her dynamic with Thor himself.
Waititi’s style of humor largely worked in Ragnarok, and it doesn’t completely miss here – it just feels more “amusing” where Ragnarok had so many moments that continue to leave me in stitches among rewatches. It feels like Waititi is going for something a bit deeper with the villain of Gorr, both with what they have him represent thematically and even the inherent casting of Christian Bale – the problem is the tone of his character and the weight of what those themes are trying to convey often clash hard with the playful, zany humor on the other half of the film. It’s a very weird feeling; to have both sides of a film be solid but not completely mesh well with one-another. And it’s even weirder when it’s a follow-up to a film that made it mesh well the first time. It all just feels a bit… rushed.
This isn’t to say that Thor: Love and Thunder is without merit and entertainment, because it is still a largely enjoyable adventure that I could see myself growing fonder over upon future rewatches. Chris Hemsworth does a lot of heavy lifting here as he once again brings so much earnestness and charisma to the role, cementing himself as one of the best characters remaining in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. While I would’ve liked to have more dramatic weight from Natalie Portman’s turn as Jane/Mighty Thor and Christian Bale’s gothic, nightmare-ish villain in Gorr, they individually give fantastic performances that make up for where the script lacks in certain areas. And when the whole crew is on-screen together? It feels delightful.
Waititi delivers yet another colorful, witty, and ambitious film that swings for the fences. In most respects, the film works and delivers the most imperative goods that a Marvel movie releasing in the heat of the summer should. But it also feels almost like too much of a good thing at points; there’s a little too much riffing and joking around that the film sometimes loses sight of its bigger picture that could’ve made it one of the most emotional and sincere Marvel films to date. As it stands, however, it feels like a Saturday morning cartoon with the God of Thunder – and as a Marvel fan, that is often good enough for me to be entertained.